Ed Miliband needs to define himself in the mind of voters before David Cameron and the Tory election machine does it for him, one of the key architects of president Obama's reelection victory has warned.
Stephanie Cutter, who served as Obama's deputy campaign manager in 2012, said to win the next election Labour needed to communicate a positive message with a sense of "urgency" rather than just focusing on the coalition's failures.
"When you're running against an incumbent, whether it's an incumbent named Barack Obama or David Cameron, there's a temptation to turn it into a referendum on the sitting leader," she said.
"Elections are about choices. The election was not a referendum on the president but instead a choice between Obama and Romney. As Joe Biden likes to say: 'Don't compare to the All Mighty, compare to the alternative'."
The Tory reelection team have long thought that Miliband's comparatively poor personal ratings with the public compared to Cameron's may hold the key to victory. The strategy was behind personal attacks on Miliband and repeated continued attempts to paint the "Red Ed" Labour leader as too left-wing.
Addressing a group of Labour activists in Westminster on Wednesday evening, Cutter, who now works for CNN, said the party should learn from the strategy the Democrats used in 2012 - before the Tories used it against them.
"Mitt Romney thought all voters needed to know was his name was not Barack Obama. His campaign focused on making the case against Obama rather than making the case for Mitt Romney. That was a crucial error. What he should have been doing was defining himself as a candidate, presenting a case for why he was the better choice."
She added: "By the time he figured that out it was too late. Because while the Romney campaign failed to introduce or define their candidate, we decided to step up and do it for them. We launched a comprehensive campaign push aimed at acquainting voters with the real Mitt Romney. As you might imagine, the portrait we painted wasn't a very flattering one."
Cutter was speaking at the event organised by LabourList alongside senior Miliband aide Lord Wood, former Obama campaign staffer and now Labour digital campaign adviser Matthew McGregor and former Gordon Brown aide Kirsty McNeill.
Cutter, who also worked on John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign among other senior posts in Democratic politics including the White House, suggested Miliband needed to present a "positive vision" for the future rather than just focus on unpopular coalition policies.
"People gravitate towards those leaders that have positive vision for the future," she said. "Voters had no idea where Mitt Romney wanted to take the country. He was too busy complaining about the present to offer plans for the future."
She added: "Voters want to hear about the better future Ed Miliband has in mind for the UK. It can be easier to bash an incumbent than articulate the promise of a new candidate and his vision. Sometimes its more fun even. As both John Kerry and Mitt Romney learned the hard way, that's not a way to win an election.
Cutter said while it was important to highlight unpopular Tory policies, the case for where the country would head with Miliband in Downing Street needed to be made with a "sense of purpose and urgency".
In August the Conservatives scored a coup by securing the services of Cutter's former boss, Obama's 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina. Cutter warned that the Tories were trying to learn the lessons of the last presidential campaign.
Asked by the Huffington Post UK whether she was disappointed to see Messina work for the other side, she said: "That's a decision for Jim."
"Jim and I were colleagues. We haven't discussed the UK election at all or his decision to join Cameron. Or my coming here. We haven't discussed any of it," she said. "I do know that he is very skilled. There is a lot the Tories are trying to learn about what we did in 2012. And that shouldn't be proprietary information to just the Tories."
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